What Veterans Need to Know About VA Disability Benefits

Veterans with asbestos-related illnesses may be eligible for a variety of veterans benefits including VA disability compensation, VA health care, geriatric care and caregiver benefits. Veterans should apply for VA benefits to access free health care and monthly compensation to help cover expenses related to the diagnosis. 

To access benefits, veterans submit forms with accompanying evidence to support the claim. It’s important to keep track of your medical records, work records and asbestos exposure history. Gathering this evidence and submitting it with your claim are among the most important steps in the claims process.

In addition to disability compensation, the VA offers a pension benefit. But veterans can’t receive both. Understanding the ins and outs of VA benefits and becoming familiar with the VA claim process will help you successfully submit a claim that is approved by the VA.

Key VA Claim Terms

Becoming familiar with the following VA terminology will help you better understand the claims process.

  • Dependent: The VA considers spouses and unmarried children as qualified dependents for certain veteran benefits.
  • Disability Compensation: Disability compensation is a tax-free monetary benefit paid to veterans with disabilities resulting from active military service.
  • Respite Care: Respite care is a benefit offered to caregivers of veterans that allows a planned period of relief from caregiving.
  • VA Disability Rating: The VA has a disability rating ranging from 0% to 100% that is used to assess how much compensation a veteran is eligible for.
  • VA Presumptive Condition: Certain diseases, such as those caused by exposure to Agent Orange, are considered presumptively connected to serving in the U.S. armed forces.

Asbestos VA Claims Questions

Many people wonder what it takes to get an asbestos claim approved with the VA. Proof of asbestos exposure and medical paperwork validating the diagnosis are important. 

Several asbestos-related conditions qualify for disability compensation. Proving the diagnosis usually involves copies of pathology reports and other medical records.

Veterans don’t have to figure out the VA claims process alone. Resources and assistance are available to help veterans successfully submit a claim.

Why should I apply for VA compensation?

Applying may result in monthly benefits and VA health care. You may get lifetime medical care from any facility in the VA network. This includes world-class facilities in Boston and Los Angeles.

In 2019, an article published by the American Medical Association compared average wait times for new patients at VA treatment centers versus private hospitals. Researchers found that wait times at VA facilities are actually shorter than private-sector wait times in many cases.

What evidence must I provide to substantiate my disability claim?

Evidence is required to substantiate a claim. The evidence must show you have an injury or disease that began or worsened during military service. Or that there was an event during service that caused injury or disease.

In the case of an asbestos claim, the event is the exposure to asbestos while on active duty. The VA will review asbestos exposure during and after military service. A veteran must prove the disease stemmed from exposure during active duty. Medical records that prove a diagnosis of an asbestos illness are required.

Which asbestos-related diseases does the VA recognize?

The VA acknowledges the following cancers that affect a person’s:

  • Lungs
  • Bronchus
  • Gastrointestinal tract
  • Larynx
  • Pharynx
  • Urogenital system (except the prostate)
  • Pleura or peritoneum

The VA also recognizes these conditions:

  • Fibrosis
  • Asbestosis
  • Tumors
  • Pleural effusions and fibrosis
  • Pleural plaques

A doctor must state in writing that an illness was caused by asbestos. The exceptions are asbestosis and mesothelioma. These are automatically accepted by the VA as only caused by asbestos exposure.

What factors does the VA consider when deciding on my asbestos claim?

The VA will want to know if records demonstrate an exposure to asbestos in the military. It also will want to determine how much asbestos exposure the veteran had before and after military service. This is based on work history. It also will determine a relationship between exposure and the claimed disease.

What claim options are available for veterans?

There are a number of claims available to veterans diagnosed with mesothelioma. The first claim filed is known as the original claim and can be filed pre-discharge up to 180 days before leaving the service or as a post-service claim. Because of mesothelioma’s long latency period, many VA claims are filed well after discharge and can become more complex.

If veterans have already filed a claim that was initially denied but they did not immediately file an appeal, they can file a supplemental claim with new and relevant evidence.

For veterans whose claims were approved but whose disability has worsened, there are additional claim options. An increased disability claim, a new claim for added benefits and a special claim for specialized care, equipment or compensation are all available. A secondary claim can also be filed if a new disability develops related to an existing service-connected disability.

Will a lawsuit against an asbestos company affect my VA disability benefits?

No. The VA does not consider any money you may be awarded from a lawsuit or bankruptcy trust fund. Their primary financial concern is that you do not “double-dip” on a benefit.

You cannot receive money from the government twice for the same illness. The VA will consider your financial situation when the benefit is based on your income level such as a VA pension. The disability compensation amount is not based on income level or assets, as any assets acquired through the legal system have no effect on disability benefits.

VA Eligibility and Filing Questions

Veterans who served full-time and were not dishonorably discharged are eligible for VA benefits. 

There are specific VA forms that must be submitted. If the forms are not completed and filed correctly, your claim will be denied, and you will have to appeal the decision

Understanding the VA claims process helps veterans access their benefits sooner. Assistance from a Claims Agent is available to help veterans navigate the VA claims process.

What are the eligibility criteria for veterans to receive benefits from the VA?

VA benefits are available to full-time service members of the Marine Corps, Army, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard. Commissioned officers of the Public Health Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are also eligible.

What is the time limit for filing a mesothelioma claim with the VA?

The VA does not have a time limit for filing a post-service claim. The process to file can become increasingly complex over time, however. A VA-accredited claims agent can help veterans navigate the process.

For veterans still on active duty with 90-180 days of their service left, a pre-discharge claim can be filed through the Benefits Delivery at Discharge program. Veterans with less than 90 days left of service cannot file through the BDD but can file before discharge and their claim will be processed after separation.

How do you prove asbestos exposure in the military?

The VA explains that it will look for evidence that “shows you have a current physical or mental disability (damage to your body or mind that makes you less able – or totally unable – to do everyday tasks, including meaningful work), and an event, injury or illness that happened while you were serving in the military to cause this disability.”

Veterans must submit, or give the VA permission to gather the following:

  • Service records listing your military occupation or specialty
  • DD214 or other separation documents
  • Treatment records during your time in service
  • A doctor’s statement confirming the connection between your mesothelioma diagnosis and asbestos exposure as a direct result of military service as well as relevant doctor reports, scans, medical test results and any other relevant medical documentation

The VA lists military occupations such as mining, milling, shipyard work, construction, carpentry and demolition as high risk for asbestos exposure. Those who worked with products such as flooring, roofing, cement sheets, pipes, insulation and clutch facings or brake linings are also listed as being at high risk.

What is a Veterans Service Organization Accredited Representative and what do they do?

Veterans Service Organization (VSO) Accredited Representatives and Claims Agents are advocates accredited by the VA. They assist veterans in filing for VA benefits. They also help veterans write a detailed exposure summary. These are a necessity when filing claims for asbestos-related diseases.

What documentation do veterans need when applying for Disability Compensation?

To apply for Disability Compensation, veterans need to provide the following items:

  • A completed VA Form 21-526 with an accompanying asbestos exposure summary. Our Veterans Department specializes in helping veterans write their exposure summary.
  • A copy of their DD 214 (discharge paperwork). If this paperwork has disappeared, a copy can be obtained from the National Personnel Records Center. Our Veterans Department can assist you in obtaining a copy if you need to request one.
  • Copies of pertinent medical records (or a signed medical release allowing the VA to request those records)*
  • If the veteran is married, a copy of the marriage certificate (this proves they have a dependent, which provides for greater disability compensation)

* This document is a VA-21-4142 and is included at the end of the VA 21-526 form.

What does the VA do after it receives my claim?

The VA will send a confirmation letter to the veteran outlining what was received. If the veteran has not provided a detailed exposure history, the VA will ask him about his exposures.

Our Veterans Department can assist you in writing a detailed exposure summary. This will provide the VA with all the answers it needs to understand your exposure history. For asbestos cancers, a medical exam is typically not required. Medical records diagnosing those cancers are often enough.

If my application is refused, can I appeal?

Yes. If you receive a letter from the VA that says your claim was denied, you can appeal the decision. You have one year from the date stamped on the decision letter.

In most cases, you need to file a Notice of Disagreement (NOD) with the VA. Once you fill out the NOD form, you can mail it to the address on the decision letter or take it to your local VA regional office.

Can I work and still receive VA disability benefits?

Most veterans receiving disability benefits from the VA can continue to work, with some exceptions. Those who received a higher disability rating because they are considered unemployable cannot work while receiving VA benefits.

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VA Compensation Questions

The VA offers disability compensation to veterans with asbestos-related diseases such as mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis. This compensation can be used to cover medical expenses and other costs incurred because of the diagnosis.

The amount of compensation depends upon the severity of the diagnosis. For example, mesothelioma has a 100% disability rating with the VA as of 2022, which is correlated to the highest monthly compensation. The time it can take to get compensated varies by state.

What kind of compensation are veterans entitled to if their military service caused a disability?

Disability Compensation is the primary VA benefit for veterans disabled by their service. Veterans must fill out a VA 21-526 form (known as an Application for Disability Compensation or Pension) and file it with the regional VA office in their state. The regional office is a branch of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. It is not the state’s Department of Veterans Affairs.

The Veterans Department at The Mesothelioma Center can assist you in filing for an asbestos-related illness. Our Claims Agents can help you write an asbestos-exposure summary. You must be able to detail your exposure to asbestos with specifics on when and where it happened. You will need to convince the VA that more than half of your lifetime exposure to asbestos occurred on active duty.

What is the amount and payment schedule for VA Disability Compensation?

Payments for a service-connected disability are based on a rating given by the VA. It is expressed in 10% increments. Exact disability payments vary. They depend on your level of disability and the number of dependents you have. Other factors play a role including if you are homebound or in need of regular aid and attendance. You can find a breakdown of the current benefit rates on the VA website.

You will receive a payment each month. The basic payment varies between $171 for a veteran with a 10% disability rating to more than $3,877 for someone with a 100% disability rating. Mesothelioma and lung cancer caused by asbestos is rated at 100%. Noncancerous asbestos illnesses are rated anywhere from 0% to 100%. The rating is primarily based on the results of a pulmonary function test.

How long will it take for the VA to make a decision on my Disability Compensation claim?

It is different in every state.

The VA has one or more regional offices in each state, and backlogs vary by state. It generally takes six to eight months to get a decision. The VA’s Fully Developed Claims (FDC) program now allows veterans, a Veterans Service Organization or Claims Agent to gather necessary paperwork to help expedite a decision. The waiting time can be cut in half.

What is Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC), and who is eligible for it?

DIC is a benefit paid to a surviving spouse, dependent children, or both, of a veteran who died from a service-connected disability. For a survivor to be eligible for DIC, the veteran’s death must have stemmed from one of the following:

  • A disease or injury incurred or aggravated on active duty or training for active duty.
  • An injury incurred or aggravated during inactive duty training.
  • A disability or condition directly related to a service-connected disability.

Spouses receive a basic monthly payment. They may receive an additional payment for dependent children if they require aid and assistance, or if they are homebound.

Are there benefits available for veterans based on income?

Most benefits are based on whether a veteran has a service-connected disability. It is possible to receive benefits, such as a VA pension, and qualify for VA health services even if you do not have a service-connected disability.

You must show that your income and personal assets prevent you from enjoying a minimum quality of life or affording your own health care insurance. Veterans can either receive VA Disability Compensation or pension. They cannot receive both. If a veteran qualifies for both, they will be awarded the higher-paying monthly benefit — typically disability compensation.

Veterans who qualify for VA health care based on income have copays for VA prescriptions and health care services.

Are veteran disability benefits taxable?

No. You don’t need to pay taxes on disability benefits you receive from the VA. When you file your taxes, do not include the VA benefits you receive in your gross income.